I’m off to the Edinburgh leg of the annual Scotland Loves Anime this week and the festival is important enough to me to drag me out of my self-imposed writing moratorium. So a look back as to why, and some thoughts on the significance of the festival as a whole.
Lesbian Bear Storm (Yurikuma Arashi). Let that title sink in for a bit because as titles go, it’s particularly on the nose. Especially so for director and writer Kunihiko Ikuhara whose previous directorial works - Utena and Penguindrum - relied on a slightly less blatant approach to themes and tone.
Blunt force is the order of the day here though because from the repeated character refrains through to the imagery and structure of each episode, this is a series that will bludgeon you with its message rather than hide it subtext and inference. What it lacks in subtlety then, as has become a trait of the director’s anime series, it makes up for in layers and symbolism.
I felt like a monster after the final episode of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April). The ending was always going to go one of two ways and I was braced for either one: agonising tears or delirious happiness. I certainly didn’t expect to feel nothing. All these other people gushing tears, drowning in hyperbole, and there I was, indifferent. I had cheered Kousei Arima on through the bright lights of stage performances and honey-lit afternoon walks home but in the denouement I realised that all the individual things that irked me about the series had gathered like so much detritus on a beach and was now spoiled.
I knew what I was getting in to of course. Awash with pastel shades and misty eyed teenagers this was a romance series first and foremost with the “musician’s heart” narrative the tempo to the love story melody. Kousei starts out unable to play the piano, supposedly a prodigy from a young age, he is invited on a date by his best friend and serial flirt Ryouta where he meets the series’ poster child, Kaori Miyazono.
In what is surely a common refrain of my generation, I don’t believe in a lot of things. One thing I do believe is that anime can be more than consumerist drivel or jail baiting deviance. That’s obviously a privileged position to take and separated both geographically and ideologically from the day-to-day reality of producing it (and the cyclical market forces that engender that production) but it takes a series like Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son) to remind me that “something more” does exist with anime.
And for once it’s not buried in the story where I usually go ferreting around for meaning and nuance, it’s right there in the topic. Shuichi Nitori who was born male but identifies as female is friends with Yoshino Takatsuki who, conversely, was born female but identifies as male; Hourou Musuko is the story of these two and their journey through junior high school.
There’s a character in Inou Battle, not a main character mind you, he’s barely even a secondary character really, but he says something in the series’ ninth episode that more or less sums up my feelings for it:
[I’m] just your average, everyday reader, who wants to see something interesting or enjoyable
You and me both tertiary character man. Inou Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de (When supernatural battles become commonplace) sells itself in its title and in its first episode as teenagers suddenly gaining supernatural powers and then duking it out. Chronicle in anime form essentially. Only the “battles” of the title aren’t at all commonplace because they don’t happen at all until the very last episode; instead of these battles we get a gorgeously presented but utterly rote campus love comedy.